Longtime residents of the Juneau area know that the Kensington Mine has been many years in the making. After nurturing the project since the 1980s, Coeur Alaska finally obtained all of its permits and shifted to full construction mode last year. At every step of the way, Coeur Alaska has worked very hard to earn the support of the community (more than 76 percent according to an independent survey). With a recent favorable court ruling and a prestigious award under its belt, Coeur Alaska has demonstrated that this mine is a boon to Southeast Alaska.
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The mine has been granted more than 60 environmental and regulatory permits - and a U.S. District Court in Alaska just upheld a key permit for the mine.
What's more, officials at Kensington were just notified within the past week that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has selected Kensington to receive the 2006 Hardrock Mineral Community Outreach and Economic Security Award.
BLM Director Kathleen Clarke noted that the award is presented "to those hard-rock mining projects that have shown responsible mineral resource development while demonstrating an understanding of sustainable development." Specifically, the Kensington nomination focused on a multi-faceted community outreach program that has worked closely over the years with the Alaskan Native corporations based in Juneau, commercial fishing organizations, environmental groups and recreational interests.
Coeur's Chief Executive Officer Dennis Wheeler said the company was "humbled to be recognized by the (Bureau of Land Management)." What he didn't mention was that the company is known in the industry as a responsible operator and has received more than 20 such environmental awards over the years.
Still, and in direct contrast with widespread community support, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council persists with its inexplicable legal challenges to the project. At some point, you have to ask yourself, what SEACC's agenda really is, because the facts simply don't warrant the continued criticism of Kensington.
Kensington currently has 300-plus folks at work as it continues its construction progress. Plans calls for the $190 million Kensington mine to be completed by the end of 2007. That means it would begin producing its targeted annual rate of 100,000 ounces of gold in 2008. Once it begins operating, the mine will have some 200 permanent workers with $16 million of annual payroll and benefits. Kensington should generate millions more in state and local tax revenues. I applaud Coeur Alaska's community support as demonstrated by their record of charitable contributions in the region and supporter of the Native community and local businesses.
It's not always easy to do the right thing, but Coeur Alaska has demonstrated a commitment to do just that in every aspect of the Kensington mine. It seems to me that Kensington has proven itself, and that is no doubt the reason it has earned the support of Juneau. By contrast, SEACC's actions are contrary to the long-term economic and socio-economic interests of Juneau. It's time for SEACC to cease litigation and join other interested parties to ensure that Kensington will realize its full potential and benefit not only Southeast Alaska but the rest of the state as well.
Rosemary Hagevig is a Juneau resident who served on the Juneau Planning Commission from 1992 to 1994, and the Juneau Assembly from 1994 to 1999.